Simple Kimchi: A Basic Recipe for Getting Started

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In this post I’m going to show you how to make a simple kimchi recipe. Because if you google “how to make kimchi” I guarantee you’ll  no two recipes will be the same and some will be quite complicated. I’ve read that there are over 100 types of kimchi in Korea, kimchi’s country of origin.  This is a testament to the incredible variety of different ways to make kimchi!

There are many different ways to make kimchi. This simple kimchi recipe is a great place to start if you're making kimchi for the first time.

The Basics of Making a Simple Kimchi

Still, there are some unifying features.

1. The veggies

For the most part, the base of vegetables is Chinese (also called Napa) cabbage, garlic and ginger.  The most common vegetables added to that are green onions, daikon radish and carrots.  This is pretty much what I use, except for the carrots (I’m just not a carrot fan) and are the veggies I’ve included in this simple kimchi recipe.

2.  The spice

The next unifying feature is the spice which is usually dried red chili flakes.  I actually used to use hot sauce which is totally acceptable albeit perhaps not the most traditional method.

3. The paste

And finally, most recipes call for making a paste of the chili flakes with the ginger and garlic (often with a starchy base like rice flour) that is then mixed with the vegetables.  I skip the starchy base in my recipe as it does take a little more time and skill.

After those three basics, you’ll find tons of variations.  For example, many recipes pre-soak the veggies in a salt brine which supposedly allows more flavor to infuse the veggies.  Many recipes call for a little sugar, fish sauce or anchovies and of course there are dozens of different types of vegetables and even fruit.

But this simple kimchi recipe sticks with the basics and is a great starting point if you’re making kimchi for the first time. For a printable recipe (but without visuals), scroll down to the end of this post.

How to Make a Simple Kimchi 

Makes approximately two twelve ounce jars.

Ingredients

  • 2 heads Napa cabbage, chopped
  • 2 pieces daikon radish, chopped
  • 1 bunch scallions, chopped
  • 4-6 cloves garlic
  • 1-2 inch piece of ginger, peeled
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup Korean red chili powder or other red pepper flakes, depending on how spicy you like it
  • 1-2 tsp fish sauce, optional
  • 3-4 TBSPs sea salt

Directions

1. Trim ends of cabbage and chop any way you want – thin or thick strips is fine.  Chop the daikon radish and scallions as well.

2.  Add the salt to the vegetables and mix thoroughly.  Let sit for an hour or two.  The salt will draw out the water.  This is known as the “dry salt” method and the one I prefer.   If you don’t want to wait a few hours you can simply crush and squeeze the veggies with your hands.  Do this for a minute or two until the veggies get nice and wet from the water that is released.

There are many different ways to make kimchi. This simple kimchi recipe is a great place to start if you're making kimchi for the first time.

The other method is known as brining which soaks the veggies for several hours (or overnight) in a salt water solution.   This method allows more flavor to infuse the vegetables but requires a lot more time (and patience).

3. In a food processor, blend the garlic, ginger and chili flakes into a paste.

There are many different ways to make kimchi. This simple kimchi recipe is a great place to start if you're making kimchi for the first time.

4. Thoroughly mix the cabbage, radish, scallions and optional fish sauce with the paste in a bowl.  Don’t do this with your bare hands though!  I made this mistake once.  It took a few hours for my hands to stop burning.  Either use some rubber gloves or a kitchen tool.

There are many different ways to make kimchi. This simple kimchi recipe is a great place to start if you're making kimchi for the first time.

4. Pack mixture into glass mason jars with some sort of kitchen tool with a blunted end.There are many different ways to make kimchi. This simple kimchi recipe is a great place to start if you're making kimchi for the first time.

The wooden tool pictured is actually a pastry maker but it works beautifully as a veggie stomper. Unfortunately, it’s no longer available on Amazon.

But you can check out this vegetable stomper which is more specific to fermenting vegetables.

5. Press mixture firmly into jars until the water level starts rising.  This is the key!

There are many different ways to make kimchi. This simple kimchi recipe is a great place to start if you're making kimchi for the first time.

Here’s another angle (and yeah it’s messy but fun!):

There are many different ways to make kimchi. This simple kimchi recipe is a great place to start if you're making kimchi for the first time.

It’s this anaerobic salty brine solution in which the magic of fermentation happens. Bad bacteria can NOT form in this brine solution.  Continue pressing until everything is submerged under the water.  Leave at least an inch between the top of the water and the top of the jar.

6.  Put the lids on and leave the jars at room temperature for 2-7 days. Open the lids every day to release the gasses that form as a byproduct of fermentation.  If the water level rises, drain some off.  If the vegetables rise above the level of the water, pack them back under the water.

7. Taste the kimchi after 2 days.  It should taste pleasantly sour.  If not, continue to let it ferment and taste it every day until you find the taste acceptable.  Transfer to the fridge where it will continue to ferment (and the taste will change!) albeit at a much slower pace.  It will last for at least six months.

8.  If you’re a kimchi addict like myself and will plow through two jars of kimchi fairly quickly, double or even triple the amounts above.  This is how much kimchi I now make:

There are many different ways to make kimchi. This simple kimchi recipe is a great place to start if you're making kimchi for the first time.

That will last me several months!

Get More Kimchi Recipes

And finally, if you’re a kimchi addict like myself and want to expand your kimchi-making repertoire beyond the basics, check out The Kimchi Cookbook: 60 Traditional and Modern Ways to Make and Eat Kimchi.

There are many different ways to make kimchi. This simple kimchi recipe is a great place to start if you're making kimchi for the first time.


Printable Kimchi Recipe

5 from 1 vote
How to Make Kimchi: A Simple Recipe
Simple Kimchi Recipe
Prep Time
2 hrs
Total Time
2 hrs
 

There are many different ways to make kimchi but this simple kimchi recipe is a great place to start if you're making kimchi for the first time.

Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Korean
Servings: 2 12 ounce jars
Author: Craig Fear
Ingredients
  • 2 heads Napa cabbage, chopped
  • 2 pieces daikon radish, chopped
  • 1 bunch scallions, chopped
  • 4-6 cloves garlic
  • 1-2 inch piece of ginger, peeled
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup Korean red chili powder
  • 1-2 tsp fish sauce, optional
  • 3-4 TBSPs sea salt
Instructions
  1. Trim ends of cabbage and chop any way you want - thin or thick strips is fine.  Chop the daikon radish and scallions as well.
  2. Add the salt to the vegetables and mix thoroughly.  Let sit for an hour or two.  The salt will draw out the water.
  3. In a food processor, blend the garlic, ginger and chili flakes into a paste.
  4. Thoroughly mix the cabbage, radish, scallions and optional fish sauce with the paste in a bowl
  5. Pack mixture into glass mason jars with some sort of kitchen tool with a blunted end.
  6. Press the mixture firmly into jars until the water level starts rising.
  7. Put the lids on and leave the jars at room temperature for 2-7 days. Open the lids every day to release the gasses that form as a byproduct of fermentation. If the water level rises, drain some off. If the vegetables rise above the level of the water, pack them back under the water.

There are many different ways to make kimchi. This simple kimchi recipe is a great place to start if you're making kimchi for the first time.

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Comments

  1. We live not far from a huge Army base on the West Coast, and thus have lots of Koreans in the area. Once at a Korean friend’s party she told me she doesn’t like her kimchi too sour, so she only ferments it a few hours. It was delicious, but not nearly as sour as mine.

    Your recipe sounds delicious, but my husband is one of those super tasters who can’t take any heat at all. Darn! So, if he will be eating it, I make fermented veggies without the peppers. Not authentic kimchi, that’s for sure. But it does point up the versatility of fermenting veggies – just about anything goes, once you have the basics down.

  2. wildgeraniums says:

    Craig,
    Are you familiar with the proponents of fermenting who believe that it takes at least 30 days of fermentation to build up adequate LABs (lactic acid bacteria) in the ferment for optimal nutrition? Curious to have your input on this. I believe Sandor Katz does talk about this, too.Thanks for your book (reading it) and all of your informative posts!

    • I haven’t heard that before but it would not surprise me at all if it were true! If you come across a source or two, please share it here. And thanks for reading my book!

  3. Reiske, Andreas says:

    Yes! And i like it !!!
    Thanks for sharing ….

  4. Thank you for sharing this recipe, Craig. I followed your directions, except I left out the pepper (and fish sauce) as my husband and I can’t handle spicy food. We let it ferment for 3 days and then tried it… and the flavor was… a bit off. It was very salty tasting. I halved the recipe and used 2 TB of salt. Do you think I used too much salt, or didn’t let it ferment long enough?… would love to find a way to make this easy method work, as the “traditional” Korean techniques are too difficult for me to attempt.

    • Hi Mia, it’s very likely you used too much salt. Just cut back next time and I’m sure it’ll be fine. And 3 days is the minimum I’d let it ferment. You can go even longer. Give it a taste every few days until it tastes pleasantly sour and then you’ll know it’s ready.

      • Thank you, Craig. We let the 2nd jar ferment for 5 days, and it was better, but after a few more days in the fridge, it’s starting to taste like kim chi. So I do believe you’re right! More time, a bit less salt. 🙂

  5. I feel a little dumb asking this (!!) but…I did the dry salt method, and when I went to mix in the paste, there was not much liquid (certainly the cabbage was moist, but there was not lots of liquid). Where does the liquid come from when you put it in the jar? Do you add salt water/brine to the jar? Thanks!!

    • Hi Julia, sorry for the slow reply. So when you press the vegetables into the jar, water should leach out and accumulate. This should be pretty easy if the veggies and salt are allowed to “marinate” for a few hours. The salt naturally pulls the water out. But if there’s not enough, you can certainly add a little water. Hope that helps.

  6. If you want to save a lot of time, just heat a kettle of boiling water, salt the cabbage and pour the water over it. It’s also a chef’s trick for softening cabbage for slaw. you can then stir in the rest, retaining the liquid for bottling. I add sweet peppers, presoaked seaweeds like wakami or kombu bits, as well as the carrot, scallion, onion etc. you also can use flaked pepper, chopped garlic and ginger, and you don’t have to bother making a paste if its chopped finely. I make 6-8 jars in about 90 min.

  7. I loved this recipe! I used a bit more garlic and added kale. Yum!!

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